Am I Normal Yet? By Holly Bourne

Am I Normal Yet? By Holly Bourne.

If you had to ask me what my favourite books that I’ve read in 2016 are ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ by Holly Bourne (and its sequel ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’) Would be somewhere on the list, and my only regret when reading this book was not discovering it earlier!

I had been meaning to read this book ever since I accidentally bought the sequel ‘How Hard Can Love Be’ for £1.99 at iBooks (at the time I didn’t know it was a sequel). So when I saw the first book in the library, I couldn’t resist picking it up, even though I had already checked out around five books (but you can never get too many books out from the library!)

The main character Evie has OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), which is something I don’t know much about, and it’s one of the first books I’ve read where the main character is recovering from OCD. The OCD aspect of the novel was very well written. I felt like it definitely helped give me an insight as to what people who have OCD are going through and how because of the media we have been misinformed of the struggles that people who have OCD are going through (i.e. OCD isn’t just making sure your pens are in a specific order or whatever).

However what really stood out for me in this novel was the friendship between Evie, Lottie and Amber. At the start of the novel Evie feels that she has lost her best friend to a boy, but then she meets Lottie and Amber. Their friendship was the highlight of the novel, and even though there are boys in the novel I liked how their friendship took precedence over their relationships with boys. Which is a refreshing change in YA.

Another important part of this novel is feminism, Lottie, Amber and Evie start a feminist club called the Spinster club, I especially liked some of their conversations such as the Bechdel test* (which I’d heard of prior to the novel but had no idea what it was) and their aim to reclaim the word spinster.

‘Am I Normal Yet’ is a YA novel, but unlike many of the YA novels I’ve read its UKYA novel (YA that is set in the UK). This is the second UKYA novel I’ve read, the first one being Lobsters by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison. Although I love YA, it’s a refreshing change to read YA set in the UKYA, especially since I’ve grown up in Britain and I can relate to the characters who are in college. So after reading this, I think I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more UKYA recommendations!

Overall I’d give this book 5/5 stars, and despite the fact that I’ve already read it I’m considering buying it for £1.79 on the Kindle. I’d highly recommend this book, and I couldn’t put it down!

*The Bechdel test is when a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man (neither the original Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and the last Harry Potter film pass the Bechdel test). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test

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Character Spotlight: Kirsten Greene from Just Listen

Kirsten Greene from Just Listen.

Don’t speak, don’t judge, just listen or in this case Just Listen. Kirsten Greene is one of the supporting characters in ‘Just Listen’ by Sarah Dessen. She is Annabel’s eldest sister, and despite the fact that she is in New York for the majority of the novel, she is nevertheless still an important character.

  • She protects her younger sister; Annabel at the start of the novel, when a twelve year old Annabel tries to befriend a sister. When Sophie rudely turns down Annabel’s offer to be friends, she defends her younger sister.
  • Prior to the novel, when their grandmother dies and their mother struggles to cope, it falls to Kirsten to take care of things around the house, and she continues this as if nothing was wrong at all.
  • When Whitney starts losing weight when she moves to New York. Kirsten doesn’t hesitate to call her parents and voice her concerns.
  • She decides to give up modelling when she realises that she doesn’t particularly enjoy it, and she isn’t afraid to tell her parents this.
  • She chooses to go to enrol some classes in college, but continues to balance two jobs knowing that she will have to cover the bills.
  • Prior to novel when Whitney breaks her arm when riding her bike, Kirsten rides Whitney home on her handlebars. This further empathizes that she is very protective of both Whitney and Annabel.
  • Throughout the novel she learns that sometimes she needs to speak less, and just listen. During the flashbacks we learn that she talks too much and volunteers too much information, but she slowly learns that she needs to be more concise.

So if you want to read a YA contemporary that has a great supporting cast then I’d highly recommend Just Listen by Sarah Dessen!

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

I love a good Sarah Dessen Novel as much as the next person, but sometimes when I read too many of her works in one go, it’s hard to avoid the cookie cutter mould that she uses for every novel: girl with not-so common name has family issues, meets a guy, dates said guy, something happens usually to do with the aforementioned family issues and she ends up pushing him away, and then of course everything gets resolved in time for the end of the novel.

However despite this ‘Saint Anything’ is still a good book, but if authors who have a blueprint for all of their works annoys you, then maybe leaving gaps when reading Sarah Dessen books is a good idea.

I liked Sydney as a character, but like pretty much every Dessen character she is pretty passive and doesn’t like to disobey her parents or add to the stress her brother caused. I just wish Sydney had stuck up for herself at some point in the novel. I loved Mac, and I loved his friendship with Sydney; I loved it when they are ordering pizzas and try to guess what type of people are ordering the pizzas. I also liked learning about Mac’s past (although I felt like it was a bit rushed due to everything else that was happening).

I also found that there was too much going on in the novel Peyton’s in prison, Layla and her boyfriend, Sydney’s dealing with guilt that her brother caused, Ames, Mrs Chatham’s illness and those are only a few of the many subplots I can actually remember. I feel like if only a few of these were covered in greater depth this book would’ve been more enjoyable. Instead I found myself getting lost because of the many characters and subplots.

However her friendship with Layla is probably one of the best friendships in any Sarah Dessen novel. I loved reading how their relationship developed over the course of the novel and I really wish I had a friend like Layla! For me, Layla was by far the best character in this novel; from her love of chips (sorry, fries) to her quirks such as ‘never forgetting a face’, I have a feeling that I wouldn’t have enjoyed this book nearly as much without her.

I did enjoy reading about how Sydney dealt with her guilt, and how even though she wasn’t responsible for her brother’s actions she still feels responsible. I felt like the ending gave us closure on how she dealt with her guilt.

Overall I’d give this 4/5 stars, it was an enjoyable book, but I felt like it dragged on for too long at the beginning and all the action was left until the end (and by this point I thought that there was too much going on). To conclude, this was a good read but not one of my favourite Sarah Dessen novels, also if you plan on reading this then make sure you have a lot of snacks!

Also I wished that the carousel had appeared in more than one scene, I mean it is on the cover after all, you’d think that it would play a bigger role in the book…

Character Spotlight: Owen Armstrong

Owen Armstrong from Just Listen

While Owen Armstrong might not be an unappreciated character in the novel Just Listen, I think that he is a brilliant and nevertheless important character and a great friend to the protagonist in Just Listen; Annabel Green.

  1. He’s honest, and he doesn’t hold back. A lot of people in books and in real life including the protagonist; Annabel, lie or don’t say anything to spare people’s feelings. Owen recognises that lies hurt more than the truth, and as a result he is always honest.
  2. When Sophie confronts Annabel in the car park. Owen is there for Annabel even though they’ve never actually spoken and helps her out. Despite the fact that it would’ve been easier just to ignore the conflict.
  3. He also gives her a lift home, when Whitney doesn’t turn up to give Annabel a lift. Annabel doesn’t even ask, he just offers her a lift.
  4. He encourages Annabel to be more honest and tries to encourage her to give up modelling which she clearly doesn’t enjoy. However Annabel wants to avoid confrontation with her mother.
  5. He’s not above being a photographer for his sister’s fashion shoot (although he does constantly criticise her music taste).
  6. He has a radio show, and is clearly dedicated to it even though it’s at 7-8 on a Sunday when most people are asleep (except maybe the enlightened insomniacs!)
  7. He doesn’t care what people think, he doesn’t seem that bothered when Annabel doesn’t like some of his music. On the contrary he seems to enjoy hearing what people think.
  8. He burns at least ten CDs for Annabel to listen to, ‘Don’t speak, don’t judge, just listen’.

So if you are looking for a YA contemporary to read and characters that you’ll fall in love with, then I’d recommend Just Listen, and I guarantee that you’ll fall in love with Owen Armstrong!

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Don’t think, don’t judge, just Listen.

Confession: ‘Just Listen’ by Sarah Dessen is one of my favourite Sarah Dessen novels (actually it is probably one of my favourite YA novels of all time). It is also one of my favourite ‘go-to’ novels when I’m not sure what else I want to read. Before I read Just Listen, although I had other books by Sarah Dessen on my shelf I don’t think I read them, Just Listen introduced me to the world of Dessen and the world of sweet, contemporary YA. Seriously, if you haven’t read Just Listen yet read it now!

The plot is about Annabel Greene a.k.a. ‘The girl who has it all’. However early on in the novel we discover that something (sorry for the placeholder!) happened over the summer and now she has fallen out with her best friend: Sophie. When she returns to school, she meets her Owen who is always honest and she learns to become more honest and to ‘just listen’ to the music.

I really liked Annabel as a character, and I found myself identifying with her; like her I’m prone to telling lies to spare people’s feelings and I try to avoid confrontation when possible. I might not have particularly liked Annabel pre ‘Just Listen’ when she was friends with Sophie, but I really enjoyed reading her story (especially her friendship with Owen)!

Like every other Dessen novel; I loved the supporting characters such as Rolly, Mallory, Kirsten, Whitney and Clarke, (also keep an eye out for characters from other Dessen novels!) and I would love to see them appear in future Dessen novels. I also liked the fact that we got to see not only Annabel developing as a character, but we got to see Whitney and Kirsten’s character development in the novel as well.

I also really liked how family played a big part in this novel, in many YA contemporaries, the parents often make a brief appearance and are ‘missing’ for the majority of the book. However in this book we learn about Annabelle’s family and the problems that they have/ are facing.

If you are worried that this will be another YA contemporary, don’t worry because although it does have the aspects of your stereotypical contemporary, there is so much more to the story. Annabel deals with a number of issues such as family and friendship problems which plays a big part in the novel.

Overall I’d give this book 5/5 stars, and it is one of my favourite YA contemporaries and it tells you the importance of being honest and standing up for yourself (even if it means confrontations!)